Iran, Russia negotiate over possible solution to nuke crisis
Updated: 2006-02-21 09:15
Iranian and Russian officials ended talks on a Russian plan to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff without agreement, but promised to keep negotiating in a bid to defuse the growing international crisis.
Negotiations between the two sides' technical experts were to continue Tuesday in Moscow, state-run RIA Novosti quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying.
Russia proposes that Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment needs be met on Russian soil -- guaranteeing supplies for Tehran's atomic power programme, while reassuring the international community that none of the uranium can be secretly used for a bomb-making programme.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gives a press conference about the process of enriching uranium at the Iranian embassy in Brussels. Iranian and Russian officials ended talks on a Russian plan to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff without agreement, but promised to keep negotiating in a bid to defuse the growing international crisis. [AFP]
The idea is seen as a last chance for Tehran to avoid being hauled before the UN Security Council for possible punitive action.
However, with the West piling diplomatic pressure and Iran refusing to resume a moratorium on domestic, small-scale enrichment of uranium, the window of opportunity is narrowing.
Russia, which is Iran's chief nuclear industry partner, has joined the West in insisting that the proposed deal with Iran could only work if Tehran first completely abandoned uranium enrichment.
"It is important of course to resume the moratorium on uranium enrichment on Iranian territory,"Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists.
But the head of the Iranian delegation, Ali Hosseini-Tash, ruled out linking "a moratorium on uranium enrichment and talks on the Russian proposal," ITAR-TASS reported.
And in Tehran, government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said there was "no way that we will limit our (nuclear) activities to the minimum."
Iran has already been reported to the UN Security Council for its allegedly suspicious nuclear activities, and the head of the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency is due to file a report by March 6 that will be crucial in determining whether the world body takes action.
Last month Tehran removed seals at three nuclear facilities, including a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, and signalled its intention to resume nuclear work.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters in Brussels on Monday that an end to the nuclear standoff could still be negotiated, and he urged the West not to turn to the UN Security Council.
"We believe the time of threats is over," Mottaki said. "There is still time for all the parties to reach a compromise, and I hope they use that time."
With rhetoric on Iran hardening in the West, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to begin a Middle East tour on Monday partly aimed at seeking support from key Arab states against Iran's policies.
Russia has many reasons for hoping to resolve the Iranian nuclear row, analysts say.
Moscow has no desire to see Iran become armed with nuclear weapons, but it is also Tehran's closest nuclear partner, with Russian engineers in the later stages of building the country's first atomic power station at Bushehr in southern Iran.
Russia is also keen to remain on good terms with Shiite Muslim Iran given Moscow's close relationship with nearby ex-Soviet states such as Azerbaijan and Tajikistan that also have substantial Shiite Muslim populations.